Photo: Shaunleeyh / Wikipedia
The Wi-Fi Alliance has announced that it is simplifying the naming conventions for Wi-Fi standards with the introduction of “Wi-Fi 6,” a new designation for the protocol otherwise known as 801.11ax. With the new standard comes a generational renaming of other recent Wi-Fi standards to provide more clarity on where they fit into the spectrum — 802.11n will become “Wi-Fi 4” and 802.11ac will henceforth be known as “Wi-Fi 5.” While one could assume that this would mean that older 802.11b and 802.11g technologies also get similar designations, such as “Wi-Fi 1” for the original 802.11b standard, the Wi-Fi Alliance’s announcement and corresponding Generational Wi-Fi User Guide provide no references to any standards older than Wi-Fi 4, so it appears the Alliance will simply be ignoring the prior standards, which makes some sense considering the majority of modern consumer devices provide at least Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) support.
Perhaps more interesting is that the Wi-Fi Alliance is now promoting the use of the new numbers as part of UI visuals that will allow users to know what type of Wi-Fi their connection is using, in the same manner that cellular carriers use EDGE, 3G, and LTE markers to indicate cellular network performance. As the Wi-Fi Alliance explains in its Generational Wi-Fi User Guide,
The experience a user perceives with Wi-Fi is often dominated by the speed and latency of the connection a device is making to a network. Consumers mistakenly equate the expected quality of their Wi-Fi experience with a displayed Wi-Fi signal strength indicator. In their minds, stronger signal should equate to a better user experience. To change that perception and map user experience to Wi-Fi generations, Wi-Fi Alliance introduces new User Interface (UI) visuals to identify Wi-Fi generations for network connections.
The UI visuals will provide a number as part of a dynamic Wi-Fi indicator that will allow the user to know at a glance whether they are connected to an 802.11n (4), 802.11ac (5), or 802.11ax (6) network. The symbol is expected to be able to dynamically change as a user moves between different Wi-Fi networks, in much the same way as the signal strength indicator changes as signal varies. The document also notes that the Wi-Fi certification programs for the older standards will remain the same (e.g. “Wi-Fi Certified ac”) while devices using the 802.11ax standard and beyond will use newer numerical designations, such as “Wi-Fi Certified 6.”